More than 900 criminal aliens, immigration fugitives, and immigration violators were removed from the United States or were facing deportation following a three-week enforcement surge by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Fugitive Operations Teams in California in May 2008.
During the special operation, ICE officers located and arrested a total of 905 immigration violators throughout the state, including 327 in the greater Los Angeles area. Of those arrested locally, 244 were immigration fugitives, aliens who have ignored final orders of deportation or who returned to the United States illegally after being removed. Approximately 25 percent of the aliens taken into custody in this area had criminal histories in addition to being in the country illegally.
Among those arrested by the Fugitive Operations Teams locally was a previously deported Mexican national who was convicted in the mid-1990s of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14. Mariano Ceja-Ochoa, 31, was taken into custody by ICE officers May 9 in Dana Point, Calif. Ceja is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for felony re-entry after deportation, a violation that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. ICE officers also arrested a 47-year-old British national in Lancaster, Calif., whose criminal record includes prior convictions for burglary, robbery and forgery. The woman absconded after posting a $5,000 immigration bond in 2006. She was ordered deported in absentia by an immigration judge late last year.
In addition to the local Fugitive Operations Teams, ICE officers from the agency’s teams in San Diego and San Francisco were temporarily deployed to the area to assist with this enforcement action.
ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams are tasked with identifying and arresting foreign nationals who have ignored final orders of deportation or have returned to the United States illegally after being removed. The teams prioritize cases involving immigration violators who pose a threat to national security and community safety. These include sex offenders, suspected gang members, and those who have convictions for violent crimes.
“ICE is committed to protecting the integrity to this country’s immigration system and that means ensuring that the removal orders handed down by the nation’s immigration courts are carried out,” said Brian DeMore, acting field officer director for ICE detention and removal operations in Los Angeles. “As a country, we welcome law-abiding immigrants, but foreign nationals who violate our laws and commit crimes in our communities should be on notice that ICE is going to use all of the tools at its disposal to find you and send you home.”
Since many of these individuals had already been ordered deported, they were subject to immediate removal from the United States. More than half of those arrested during the statewide operation were returned to their home countries immediately. The remaining aliens were in ICE custody and were awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge, or pending travel arrangements for removal in the near future.
The Fugitive Operations Program was established in 2003 to eliminate the nation’s backlog of immigration fugitives. Today, ICE has 75 teams deployed across the country, including 13 here in California.
In 2007, the nation’s fugitive alien population declined for the first time in history and continues to do so – in large part due to the work of the Fugitive Operations Teams. 2008 estimates place the number of immigration fugitives in the United States at slightly under 573,000, a decrease of more than 59,000 since October 2006. Given the success of the fugitive operations effort, Congress has authorized ICE to add 29 more Fugitive Operations Teams in fiscal year 2008.
ICE’s Fugitive Operations Program is an integral part of the comprehensive multi-year plan launched by the Department of Homeland Security to secure America’s borders and reduce illegal migration. That strategy seeks to gain operational control of both the northern and southern borders, while re-engineering the detention and removal system to ensure that illegal aliens are removed from the country quickly and efficiently.